Friday, 8 July 2016

Czech Republic – The ultimate A to Z (A-C)

Dobry den!

After three wonderful years, the Czech adventure has reached its conclusion. As with the end of my time in Kazakhstan, I have decided to compile my A to Z which reflects many of my thoughts on the country. Most of it will centre on Prague, though there are many other jewels in this central European crown which will be mentioned in due course. As I said before undertaking this activity for Kazakhstan, these are my opinions; if everyone agreed all the time, we would live in a very boring world.

Our caricature from Charles Bridge in September 2013 - how much have we aged since?

Enjoying a week's worth of calories in Budvarka, one of my favourite Czech restaurants

A is for…architecture
 Honourable mentions: astronomical clock, absinthe

Prague is a beautiful city, with its buildings being particularly pleasing on the eye.

Namesti Miru

The astronomical clock - much-photographed and over-hyped in my opinion
Well, most of the architecture is nice. Some of it, such as the Dancing Houses, is a bit too ‘abstract’ for my simple mind to appreciate.

If you squint, you can see Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers...maybe...

Then there’s the TV tower, which is utterly hideous and a towering blot on the otherwise stunning vista from the western castle entrance. As for the babies climbing up the tower…what was the guy thinking?

The Žižkov TV tower - aka the 'Space Needle' or 'Big Ugly Tower'

The babies are the brainchild of Czech artist David Černý
Some of the nicest views actually come from being up the top of that ‘space needle’ simply because it can’t be seen.

Prague was spared significant damage during the Second World War, allowing its grand structures to continue to sparkle. I particularly like the bright colours of many of the buildings that line the riverfront.

The beautiful Narodni Divadlo

The variety of colours lining the Vltava
My architectural knowledge is extremely limited but I believe these lovely buildings are generally neoclassical or gothic in their design. What I do know is that there is a lovely mix of styles which haven’t been destroyed by a century of political upheaval. From what I saw, communist influence is limited to one bizarre structure in Prague 6. The building is currently the Crowne Plaza hotel but it wouldn’t have looked out of place in 1960s Moscow.

St Vitus Cathedral, in the castle grounds

The Crowne Plaza Hotel
Prague is known as the ‘City of a Thousand Spires’. Its beautiful architecture certainly justifies that type of tagline.

A view of Prague from Letna

A view of the castle from Petrin
B is for…beer
Honourable mentions: Budvarka, burgers

Well, it is the home of beer.

I’ve certainly drank enough of the amber nectar over the last three years to have earnt the right to talk about it. Many others have as well – many sources state that the Czechs drink more per head than any other country in the world. It’s not surprising when you pay just over a pound – or less than $1.50 – for a beer, even in central Prague.

Beer comes with a large head in the Czech Republic - this would be sent back with anger in the UK!

The actual home of pilsner lager is an hour southwest of the capital: Plzen. The place isn’t really worth visiting aside from touring the brewery, which is an entertaining endeavour. The beer you get at the end is first-class as well.

This is the hole through which people had to crawl if there was a problem. I fitted through without any problem so clearly need more beer...

Enjoying fresh beer in the cellars of the Pilsner Urquell brewery, Plzen
My favoured beer of choice is a Řezany (I pronounced it zhuh-zhan-ee, which is probably incorrect), a beer which seems fairly unique to the country as it is a mix of half a lager and half a dark beer. My favourite places were a lovely traditional pub near Divoka Sarka and a tourist trap in the centre called Vytopna. In the latter beer is delivered on trains, which my inner child adored.

Many varieties of beer are available

The unique beer delivery system in Vytopna, on Wenceslas Square
Beer certainly isn’t a unanimous choice as the alcohol of choice in the Czech Republic. Burcak, a young wine which is incredibly sweet and goes bad incredibly quickly, is quaffed in large quantities in September when the grapes are ready. Becherovka and slivovice are the hard liquors of choice, though both are difficult to stomach.

Burcak is prominent in August and September

Becherovka originates from Karlovy Vary, a spa town west of Prague
Most, however, drink beer. It is an important part of Czech history and society, and something which I will miss due to its price, availability and quality.

C is for…Christmas markets
Honourable mentions: Colour Run, carp

Prague seems to sleepwalk its way through October and November. The nights draw in, the weather becomes drearier and people become a bit tetchier. Then, as November nears its end, something quite magical happens.

I may look unimpressed but I ended up buying this fuzzy, warming hoodie

My parents are but two examples of the large number of tourists who flock to Prague in December
Well, it’s magical if you like Christmas. I do and I loved it in Prague. The city’s mood is brightened by the plethora of lights and the vats of mulled wine keeping punters warm.

The Christmas market in Wenceslas Square

A man prepares some mulled wine
Even more tourists than usual flock to places such as Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic to sample their ‘traditional’ Christmas markets. The stalls in Prague seem to specialise in random wooden trinkets, gingerbread shaped in an innumerable amount of ways and seasonal decorations.

The Christmas market in Old Town Square

Our very own Year 6 market at the Prague British School's Christmas Extravaganza
The largest stall is in Old Town Square, where the large, electricity-guzzling tree proudly stands.

A view of the Old Town Square markets

An incredibly bright Christmas tree
This is my favourite time of year, when spirits seem to soar above the snow (or gloom, if you live in the UK). I think Prague, though clearly a bit touristy, is a particularly special place in which to experience the Christmas spirit.

Love you all


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